The InTowner
To receive free monthly notices advising of the availability of each new PDF issue, simply send an email request to and include name, postal mailing address and phone number. This information will not be shared with any other lists or entities.
Marcus Moore RestorationsAdvertisement - DC Office of the People's Counsel

Advertisement

Scenes from the Past...

The Lost Elegance of Connecticut Avenue at N Street

Most office workers and residents making their way up and down the 1300 block of Connecticut Avenue immediately south of Dupont Circle are offered little imagination to what the block appeared like before the construction of massive apartment and office buildings built there in the 1930s, with ground floor retail. Like Dupont Circle itself, it was lined with residential mansions and townhomes that were built beginning in the 1870s, when the area was rather barren. Prior to that decade, the wealthy of Washington resided in lavish homes built around Logan, Scott, and Thomas Circles.

The British Legation complex was built at 1300 Connecticut Avenue beginning in 1872 and was recognized as the first substantial house “of any pretension” built in what was then known as the West End. Located at the northwest corner of Connecticut Avenue and N Street, it was designed by local architect John Fraser, and built at a cost of $125,000, an enormous sum for the time, considering that the average townhouse in the city could be constructed for less than $2,000. It featured a large and ornate Second Empire-style building, office, official residence, stable, outbuildings, and garden, and was first occupied in 1874.

It also had the distinction of being the first foreign-owned legation in Washington. Prior to this, foreign legations tended to rent large homes, changing locations as budgets and fashionable areas waxed and waned. At the time, the area north of K Street was rather undeveloped and remote, and British Minister Sir Edward Thornton recognized a deal when the land was purchased for a mere 50 cents per square foot.

Typical of diplomatic building complexes in the 19th century, it served as both the residence of the minister (embassy) as well as the legation office space for his government (or chancellery). Mary S. Lockwood wrote about the legation in her 1889 tome Historic Homes in Washington that “when it was commenced, it was set down in barren wasteland, but today it is the centre of the fashionable residences of Washington.” She went on to describe the complex:

“The front door is approached by asphalt walks, and another leads to the side door on the rear of the house, where the offices of the legation are situated. Two or three small, stuffy rooms in the corner are given to official matters; the rest of the house is the minister’s private residence. None but his personal friends can hope to enter behind the ‘massive handle of the big front door; a letter may reach him, a card never. If, by stroke of good luck, you obtain the open sesame to this grand home, you will find a spacious hall from which rises a heavy, oaken staircase.”

In 1893, Congress elevated ministries from foreign governments to the status of embassies to the United States. Anticipating this legislative passage, the British Minister at the time, Sir Julian Pauncefote, prepared documents in advance declaring himself the ambassador to the United States. They were rushed from England and were presented to the White House at noon on April 11, 1893, whereupon he became the first official ambassador to the U.S. from any foreign government.

In April of 1879, construction of the house across the street at 1301 Connecticut Avenue started for William Hemsley Emory, II and his wife, the former Blanche Willis, at a cost of $25,000. Emory had been born in Washington, DC on December 17, 1846, the son of an Army Brigadier General and graduate of the West Point Military Academy. Emory entered the United States Naval Academy in 1862, and was eventually commissioned a Rear Admiral on November 2, 1906. His service included Asiatic, Atlantic and European Stations, command of the USS Bear in 1884, and the rescue of the Greeley Expedition party in 1889.

He commanded the USS Petrac, Asiatic Station, during the China-Japan War, protecting Catholic sisters and orphans from Chinese mobs. He commanded the USS Yosemite during the Spanish-American War and was posted to London as Naval Attaché at the Court of St. James for four years. He retired on December 7, 1908 after 56 years of honorable service. He died on July 15, 1917 in Newport, Rhode Island, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. His wife, Blanche Willis Emory (July 5, 1856-June 17, 1935) and his son, William Hemsley Emory, III, are buried with him.

The Yulee mansion at 1305 Connecticut Avenue was built by David Levy Yulee beginning in June of 1883 at a cost of $40,000. Its architect was Charles H. Read, Jr. Yulee had moved to Washington, DC permanently in 1880, although he resided here while serving as the first Jewish member of the U.S .Senate when Florida was admitted to the Union in 1845. He had been born David Levy on June 12, 1810 in Charlotte Amalie, on the island of St. Thomas, during the British occupation of the Danish West Indies, now the U.S. Virgin Islands (ironically the British were his new neighbors along Connecticut Avenue).  He changed his name in 1846 to add his father’s ancestral, Sephardic surname.

Yulee did not win reelection in 1850, and returned to Florida to establish a sugar plantation along the Homosassa River near Fernandina that remains to this day. He established the Florida Railroad in 1853, a cross-state railroad system with terminals in the deep port cities on Amelia Island on the Atlantic and Cedar Key on the Gulf of Mexico that opened in 1861. The railroad was destroyed and Yulee was imprisoned during the Civil War, but was rebuilt afterwards as the Yulee Railroad. He died while on a trip to New York City in October of 1886, just three years after his house had been completed, and was buried in Georgetown’s historic Oak Hill Cemetery.

Real estate developer Susan P. Okie, a resident and developer of houses along the 1700 block of N Street, built the two homes at 1309 and 1311 Connecticut Avenue in 1890.

The British Legation complex was razed in 1931 after the offices were relocated to the newly built British Embassy at 3100 Massachusetts Avenue. It was replaced that year by a Goodyear tire and gasoline service station, which was located on the site until 1954, when the present office building was built by the International Association of Machinists.

The Emory mansion and the Yulee mansion at 1301 and 1305 Connecticut Avenue, respectively, were razed by the time the Wilkins Security Corporation constructed the apartment house on their site in 1916. It was designed by architect Clarke Waggaman and was built at a cost of $150,000.